Neofeudalism II: The Ontology of Power and the Clash of Civilizations

I. Prologue: Dumezil and the Trinitarian Society

In my previous article in the Neofeudalism series I covered the basic framework of my idea set: that society can be characterized by a process of social evolution by which different mimetic systems evolved to satisfy human beings needs for meaning, order, and provision. This idea was first put forward cogently by Georges Dumezil, an underrated 20th century philologist and structural anthropologist known for mentoring Michel Focault and being a peer of Claude Levi-Straus. Dumezil analyzed the trend in Indo-European mimetic systems towards a trinity of institutions, headed by gods who embodied Sovereignty, Warfare, and Fertility (Zeus/Ares/Aphrodite, Odin/Thor/Frikka, et cetera). These institutions repeat themselves in modern and postmodern political and social history.

Institutions and Lateral Mimesis

As Roko Mijec points out, there are two basic temporal approaches to the mimetic process: vertical memes, which are passed from generation to generation and are subject to evolutionary pressure, and horizontal mimesis, where ideas are passed on or imposed across one slice of time, extended by force more frequently than inheritance. Further, when another civilization overtly or covertly exerts its own mimetic system over another, that process is horizontal because those narratives are being imposed on a people who did not inherit the same path-dependant mimetic systems from their ancestors. Think Christian missionaries in Africa or neocons in Iraq insisting the locals adopt practices alien to the way of living evolution has selected for them.

The Family and Vertical Mimesis

It’s uncontroversial, true, and worth stating prior to going any further that the family unit is the primary source of mimetic reproduction for all three domains of Dumezil’s typology. Not only are families required for the creation and upbringing of new people, they inculcate vertical memes that have been subject to evolutionary fitness and selection. Families and reproduction pre-date all of our inherited political systems, though they are doubtless informed and shaped by them, and many families have seen outzised influence in dominating specific spheres of life — think of the influence of the Rothschilds on modern banking, the Kennedys in American politics, the Whitneys on early industrial manufacturing, or any number of religious dynasties like the descendants of Muhammad. But at the end of the day families traditionally cross all three domains and are responsible for the mimetic education of their children in religious, political, and economic systems.

Institutions and Horizontal Mimesis

Conversely to to family, most institutions grow by absorbing new members. They themselves cannot have children. They must create incentives to absorb attention and resources in competition with other institutions. Prestige is a signal in this process. People want to go to Harvard because it has prestige. People want to work for the government because it has prestige, especially the military and intelligence services. People want to work for Apple or SpaceX because they have prestige. At its most simple is the process of advertizing. Those selling points enable those institutions to persist mimetically and to exercise power over networks beyond their immediate sway. They also mean institutions have natural incentives to enthrall as many as possible and to serve as gatekeepers of political power.

Natural Hierarchy and Defector Incentives

While post-revolutionary institutional continuity is interesting in its own right, my main concern here is the impetus people within these established orders feel to overthrow part or all of the system. I’ll call these defector incentives — literally incentives to either opt into a new system or out of an existing system. Defector incentives are the key to political power, as the regime or order that creates them in their rival’s camp has outsized power in exerting their influence abroad.

II. Property Law and the Ontology of Power

Today’s property laws and notions of ownership have pre-modern roots. Despite their modern usage, the rules and norms we use to govern ownership are almost entirely derived from medieval systems of thought and governance involving the “right to ownership” emanating from a metaphysical sovereign. In many cases the sovereign symbolically deferred ultimate authority to the divine to defray any immediate perception of tyranny and to accept the requirements to uphold the Mandate of Heaven or intellectually similar ideas within Christendom. Within this system, titles answer to some form of sovereign and extend personal rights and responsibilities as an element of a larger hierarchical system. These are metaphysical characteristics of physical objects that define human relations with the objects and with each other.

A Medieval property map. Note the organization of ownership is far more important than the geospatial accuracy of the map.

Defining a Title

Titles are present in any and all systems by which humans are incorporated under a governing authority for the purposes of cooperation towards a stated or tacit goal.

Origins of Metaphysical of Ownership

Titles’ metaphysical claims include two pillars: the legal ownership of something over a given timeframe, with ‘legal’ defined as pertaining to explicit rules kept and enforced between people, and the true metaphysical sense of ownership, whereby one is entitled to power in any manner beyond that endowed by an explicit legal system.

Core Ontological Characteristics of a Title

Here it may be helpful to provide a typology for characteristics involved in a title. By my estimation, there are six core characteristics without which one does not have a unity of material and metaphysic; objectivity, relationality, exclusivity, transferability, temporality, and durability.

III. Dumezilian Narrative Competition in a World of Titles

I’ve written before about Dumezil’s thesis that Indo-European civilizations embody a characteristic known as the Trifunctional Hypothesis. The hypothesis argues that civilization requires independant subsystems that specifically address notions of metaphysical sovereignty, security, and posterity. Classically, this is Cross, Crown, and Coin, and it is notable that almost all historical coinage bears the ruler and some reference to the gods in tandem with its function as currency.

Athena, Athens, Argentum

Defector Incentives in a World of Competing Narratives

Every one of these subsystems has its own preferred narrative system, whose promulgation underwrites the network’s success as well as its continuity into the future. When they compete with each other, they provide room for human freedom, as those barred from advancement and agency find new ground. Where there is no new ground, or where the narratives converge under a single hegemonic order, people tend towards violent revolution. Witness the protestant reformation, the American or Russian revolutions, et al. Political paradigm changes are far more infrequent (and far more violent) than Kuhnian scientific revolutions.

Down-Title Traction and the Clash of Civilizations

To quote an advisor to Kublai Khan later quoted by Kruschev, “you can build a throne of bayonettes but you can’t sit on it for long.”

American counterterrorism professional, entrepreneur, author; not necessarily in that order. Write mostly philosophy, politics, & economics. @adavidknapp